Technically, you should drink tea with your meal to aid digestion, and not just afterwards, with the fortune cookie. Usually, though, I have milk with Chinese food, because I'm a silly Westerner.
Chapter 2, 49: Sweet with Tea
“Switch it up, now, guys!” Chris spat the words, hoping that his team was still reading his mind.
They were. A forest green ripple spread from Eve to Fang in an instant as Kumi’s vines switched their target. Meanwhile, a Goblin Snare flew through the air, catching Eve just as she was lifting her shield and pinning her to the ground again.
“Impressive,” Chris said.
“Yeah, thanks,” Kumi answered. “I’ve been dropping juice in that entangle for five minutes now. Hella waste to use it on the ginger ‘stead of the Big Bad. The sabretooth is the Big Bad, right?”
“It’s what all the cool kids are saying now,” Bruce McNeely explained. “Not that you’d know, on account of being old and stuff.”
“Sweet Sixteen and on the downhill slide.” the background, noise was rising. Chris didn’t think it had anything to do with him, but Bruce would probably know what was going on. “What’s going on back there?”
Bruce took a look over his shoulder. “Well, the Tokyo Super Squad was going to lure in someone’s stalker. A vampire in power armour, so kinda cool.”
“No, no it’s not,” Kumi said. “Things that also things went out with that movie with the bear cavalry, and vampires are totally 2010. And?”
“Super Division is pulling the same stunt, only with an infiltrator. He’s a Yin Wu agent, so we’re supposed to stay away. Tiger Squad is just on about some Riverdale thing. I think. I can’t wait to be a teenager. So much drama.” Bruce’s voice dripped with sarcasm, and Chris looked at him sideways in pure skepticism, just a bit of the attention that he was devoting to the sabretooth, which was sounding almost under its breath, halfway between growl and purr, like a cat deciding that it was going to take a swipe at you for petting it too much. Bruce blushed. Yeah, Chris thought, too late to deny you like my sister now. The grandson of “the World’s Best Detective” (one of twelve) continued, “So, uhm, what’s the thing with Fang?”
“Well, he wants to pretend that he’s just another prehistoric beastie spirit guide dealie. But there’s only one of us who got close enough to the bank that night to put the thumb drive in the safety deposit box.”
“Yeah,” Bruce said, “I got that. Little thin, though?”
“But you didn’t see when I summoned spirit guides at the Bench, and one showed up for Eve, too.” Now Chris stared directly into the sabretooth’s eyes and addressed Fang directly. “What I’m really wondering is why it didn’t send a guide for you, too.”
And then the room zoomed the way that it does when you’ve gone far too long without sleep, the dizziness that isn’t really dizziness, when your brain just turns off for a second, and Chris saw a face, too indistinct for details, appear in the stripes and tufts of the tiger’s head. It spoke: “It did. I ate it.”
“What?” Chris managed to say. He looked side to side to see what Kumi and Bruce thought, but somehow they were distant and frozen, like they were trapped in ice or something.
“Okay, more seriously, I think it’s because it didn’t want to help me. Hence the whole dunk me in the water thing.”
Chris nodded. “You’re pretty mellow for someone who’s just had a hundred thousand-year-old-plot derailed.
The tiger snorted. “Hah. I just heard about Paradigm’s Apocalypse Plague five months ago, from a mutual acquaintance. Well, five months not counting time sunk in setting up the breach. Good thing I had a time machine I kicking around. Sure, I had to drop a year-and-a-half into building the Sinclair identity, and another five into waiting to see if the Plague would wipe out Earth’s obnoxious outbreak of Homo Sap in the original timeline, but frankly, when you’ve already lived hundreds of thousands, losing five years is far less annoying than having to listen to a lecture from one of Her Transdimensional Majesty’s very annoying robot heralds. Apparently she thinks that I shouldn’t be spawning new timelines by changing major historical events, but she can keep her long blue nose to herself. Soon as I’m done with you, I’m going to release it again, and if it doesn’t work this time, I’ll come back and do it again.”
Chris shrugged. “You can’t fool me. You can’t do let that mind control thing go again. Not in this dimension. So turn off your spell and surrender.”
“Mind magic? Is that what you think this is? You’ve a lot to learn, kid. Or would have. I just used my time machine to set up a stasis field. Nothing outside can affect us, although, unfortunately, I can’t hurt people in stasis. That’s why we’re talking right now. Don’t worry, though, talk first, hurt soon. And your friends, too, just to be sure. My pet scientist tells me that with lowered immunities from the winter flu season, the Plague should work this time round, but the last thing I want is meddling kids involved.”
“Someone’s helping you?” Chris had a feeling who that might be, and he didn’t like it.
“Oh, don’t worry about her. There’s a place she can be safe. She’ll even have her daughter with her. Well, a clone of her daughter. A much more compliant and respectful clone who won’t start dating some half-Chinese boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Hell, the ex will be around to take young Ms. Konoye holidays and one weekend a month. It’ll be an episode of Modern Family! Hope she finds herself a boyfriend before too long, though. The young folks nowadays, they value these things A tall. Handsome, blond Italian boy from the right sort of family would be best, I think.”
A motion appeared in the corner of Chris’s eyes. Letting the blue Tranquility be guided by the weirdly certain intuitions of peripheral vision, Chris brought his blade up, and felt it shiver as it parried another. He pivoted right. Mario –the Decurion—was there, in full Roman armour, shield and gladius up. The deeper shadows of Lythrum were cast by the brow of his helmet into the faux-Roman’s eyes, but still Chris could see that something was wrong. Something was gone.
A laugh, like the laugh that a sabretooth tiger might give, sounded to his left. “All the trouble I’ve gone through because it’s hard to cast mind control spells on a young paladin. I like mind control. Good thing I have easier targets.”
Chris sprang lightly over Decurion, flipping in midair to strike down, only to catch a parrying shield stroke. Slivers of plywood rained down as he alighted, now with Decurion between himself and the tiger-man. Now he could more clearly see the perimeter of the stasis effect, a silver bubble thirty feet across drawn, somehow, in the middle of the crowded gym floor, with Bruce and Kumi standing and Eve lying around the perimeter, silvery statues. Decurion, though, lifted off after him, and Chris had to backflip into motion again. For a seemingly endless moment, they exchanged blows in midair again, Decurion flying and Chris leaping, until Chris’s rotating feet struck the perimeter bubble.
As he had hoped, it was solid, and Chris was flying forward and down to the ground, while behind him, Decurion clattered against the wall of frozen time. Unfortunately, he was between the teen villain and the tigrish mastermind again. Fortunately, the tiger was making no moves to break out of the vines with which Kumi had wrapped him. Chris wondered if he even could. Might the vines be affected by the stasis field, too?
Mindful, Chris struck behind, thrusting his blade straight and low. Once again, he heard the Blue Tranquility hit plywood. This time, though, the thrust was true, and the Roman shield sliced easily, letting the blade bite deep through the scale mail and into the soft flesh beyond. A warm spray wetted Chris’s pant legs.
After letting his blade cut just for a moment, Chris threw himself forward, letting the momentum of his body drag his sword through the shield, ending with a cartwheel that brought him up beside the tiger, almost in hand’s reach. He was taking chances, he knew, as he surveyed the scene in front of him, Mario on the ground, doubled over a wound to the gut.
“Will he heal?” Chris snarled. “Will Eve heal? After what you’ve done to her? Or will you just ‘dispose’ of her, too?”
“Why would you think that?” The tiger asked. “She’s my daughter. And the boy is almost my son.”
“Almost,” Chris shot. Was Mario crying? Come on, boy, Chris thought to himself, heal yourself.
“We’re a close family. Rather like yours. I can do what I like with them.”
Mario still showed no signs of getting up. Uncertainly, Chris made to head towards him. I can probably fix the wound, Chris thought. It’s not like he’s bled out yet. Only he could be, if Chris’s blade had cut a major vessel. Though even with half his attention on Mario, Chris still found time to be angry at the tiger-man. “That’s not how it works!”
“In some families. I’ll grant you that, Christopher Wong. You know what the best thing about dropping years of my life into the role of ‘Mr. Sinclair’ was? Meeting your father. What a hard, honed man he was. The perfect agent for everyone he worked for. We didn’t deserve to be so disappointed by his children.”
“’We?’ What’s your beef? That we’re not metagenetic supermen? If Mario and Eve are your examples,” Chris asked. “Thank God for that.”
“Well, yes, I am disappointed that your Okanagan heritage was suppressed by that no-account Wong blood, but I am just thinking of your father. He thought you and especially your sister would make good agents for the right cause. Instead I find you running off to your prattling, praying uncle. Well, I imagine that Charlotte will be easy enough to recruit once you’re dead.”
“Charlotte would never join up with someone who killed her brother!” Chris could feel anger rising in him.
“No, she wouldn’t. That’s why I won’t tell her it was me. Secrets work best when they’re secret. Say, has anyone ever told you who killed your father?”
Out on the floor, Mario shuddered and uncoiled, lying on his side. Long, gray loops of intestines slid out of his stomach, and Chris threw up a little in his mouth. “My Dad’s not dead!”
“Undeath, even as a lich, is not the same thing as being alive. It was your auntie, you know. A classic backstab, the way your father tells it.”
Mario rolled over on his side and arched his back as his feet began to drum against the floor. “No!” Chris screamed, as he ran to the dying boy on the floor.
Carefully, Chris knelt to see what was going on. But not nearly carefully enough. The intestines disappeared, and Mario rolled to his feet, taking Chris in a wrestling grip from behind.
Chris flexed to break the grip, and realised that he had underestimated Mario’s superhuman strength. His nemesis just adjusted his grip, one arm around his, the other inching up towards his throat. It’s Harry Potter and Lucius, the way the fans wanted it, Chris couldn’t help thinking to himself.
“Ah, yes. Well, if I’m not to deal with meddling kids, I will have to kill your father’s son. No matter. Your father’s employer owes me a favour or two that he has not been able to repay. I should be able to have you raised from the dead, too. Heh. Perhaps I’ll have your mother done, too. As bound liches, you’ll both finally be in a position to show some proper filial piety. Finally something that your uncle and I can agree on.”
Once again, Chris thought, I got mad, and I got into trouble. It might be time to think about the question. Who am I mad at? Auntie Ma? He didn’t think so, even if he had good reason, all of a sudden. Or, wait. Did he?
Mario’s arm inched a little higher, and Chris began to feel pressure on his throat. Not enough to hallucinate, he would have thought, but there was definitely a fairy standing on his shoulder suddenly.
“Who are you?” Chris muttered, or, more likely, thought. “Jiminy Cricket, come to lecture me about ..something?”
The fairy resolved itself into Father Asplin. “Exactly. Except I’m not a cricket, just a plain old horse soldier. ‘We’ll pay the reckoning on the nail.’ Hmm, no? How about if I asked you why you wore that green scabbard? Not quite as musical as ‘yellow ribbon,’ but. . . They just don’t teach the classics any more.”
“Uhm, sir? I’m being choked to death here. Can’t old song lyrics wait?”
“And time is stopped here while we talk.”
“Time is stopped inside the time bubble?”
“Is that what this is? I’m sorry, Chris. This is a counselling spell, and nothing more. The real Father Asplin doesn’t know what’s going on here, and neither do I. All that this spell knows is that you’re ready to talk about something, and that it might help in the situation.”
“It’s like I told Gary Gygax back when he was working on Dungeons and Dragons. With magic, you don’t worry about consistent logic. You worry about the effect of the spell. This spell has one intended effect: to talk you out of trouble. Whether it gets you out of detention or saves the world, that’s up to Blue Heaven.”
“Aren’t you going to say something wise and adviceful now?” Chris asked.
“Do I have to, Chris?”
“No. You were going to ask me who I’m really angry at.”
“I’m angry at me.”
“I’m letting Uncle Henry and Auntie Ma take the place of my parents.”
“Is that bad?”
“No. Mom’s dead, and my Dad’s an asshole. But Auntie Ma did kill him.”
“He had it coming. So?”
“My anger has led me away from mindfulness, and lack of mindfulness has led me from the dharma path.”
Father Asplin disappeared, and Chris could see the real world, or, at least, the real world of the stasis bubble again. Mario’s arm was still just settling over his throat. Chris caught Fang’s eyes, or, rather, the weird eyes that formed, ghostlike, out of the sworls and patterns of fur that coated his massive head. “You are wrong. To see truly, you must rectify the names. Filial piety is the will of Blue Heaven, but when the name is not the meaning, the Mandate of Heaven withdraws from king, son, and father alike.”
“Oh, Chris,” Fang said. “In the last minute of your life, you want to talk like a fortune cookie?”